Children and Play - 1

What is play for children? Any adult would always be attracted to see children jumping, hopping and running in the playground of kindergartens and schools.
Whatever the definition of play may be, children learn and acquire a lot through play and develop every mental and physical function as they grow up. Play is essential for children's physical growth and mental development. Play and learning are two sides of the same coin.

What is play?

It is difficult to define play. One could say that it is a body movement or physical behavior for enjoyment and recreation. Freudianism defines it as "something like laxative to push out suppressed contradiction and camouflaged emotions."
Another definition says that play is "a training for children so that they can obtain decency of an adult." The definition of play is understandably difficult; it is up to philosophies or cultures in the background. Looking at Japanese history, descriptions about play have not been quite old. It goes back to the Era of Genji and Heike Clans (end of 1100s); we can see a clear description of play in Genroku Period (end of 1600s). However, play in the modern context probably must have developed after the Civilization and Enlightenment of Meiji Era. In the Western world, play in the modern context was born only in the seventeenth century. Children in and before the Middle Age were working and supporting themselves in the ways they could. It is said that in France the Christian spiritualism has restricted the development of play. Puritans in the United Kingdom and the United States even called play and sex "food of the devil," probably based on an idea of Puritanism. There was no enjoyment and play was work, even a dirty work sometimes. However, in the history of culture, respect for human nature has developed; play developed naturally and came to take the current form. In the United Kingdom the form of play was established in the late eighteenth century when the Industrial Revolution took place with people's lives becoming affluent.
In this way play is a part of a natural human behavior. There was a time when all the labor force was necessary for survival; adults and children alike had to grow rice plants and wheat to make bread and rice. In those days children did not have much room to play. In the cultural development people were now able to eat and live more efficiently. Children's play came to the surface as a part of human behaviors when there was room for that. However, as the educational system was established and the concept of school age was introduced, play was totally separated from learning; it seems that learning opportunities are no longer enjoyable for children.

Monkeys Play As Well

Primates like chimpanzees and Japanese monkeys let their children play when they reach a certain age. Baby monkeys start to play when they become four to eight months old, an equivalent to sixteen to thirty months old for human beings. Moreover, there are two types of play.
One is like playing tags mainly among females: come over here but you can't catch me.
Another is more violent, knocking down others like war games, sumo, wrestling and boxing. These are of course played by males.
There is no way that monkeys should learn play from human beings. Therefore we can say that in human beings as well children's play may have phylogenic implications. This is also observed in kittens and puppies playing and frisking each other.
It is true that there are similarities between those animals and children playing in kindergartens and nurseries.

Kobayashi, Noboru (1981). "Kodomo to Asobi - 1" (written in Japanese). Tokyo: Child Research Net. Retrieved Jan. 9, 2004, from the World Wide Web
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